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Aging oil tanks can pose costly risks
Malcolm Jones of West Tisbury had no idea that inside an old pump house on his beautiful property along Deep Bottom Cove overlooking Tisbury Great Pond was a calamity biding its time. Last week was the time.
Workers remove soil contaminated by home heating oil that leaked from a tank on the property of Mal Jones in West Tisbury. Photos by Ralph Stewart
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has stringent reporting requirements for fuel oil spills. Environmental cleanups must be overseen by a Licensed Site Professional (LSP), a person licensed by the DEP to monitor a cleanup.
Mr. Jones is using LSP Craig Saunders of Saunders Associates in West Tisbury to oversee the cleanup. The process began with the removal of the well pump house and the excavation of approximately eight truckloads of contaminated soil that will be trucked off-Island and disposed of by using it to produce asphalt.
The cleanup has also included siphoning oil out of the groundwater and the installation of monitoring wells.
Just removing the soil is expected to cost more than $8,000. The final bill is expected to be between $20,000 and $25,000, maybe more given all of the heavy equipment used.
"This is a nightmare," said Mr. Jones Tuesday.
DEP offers homeowners advice on what to do
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) requires that leaks or spills of 10 gallons or more, occurring within a 24-hour period, be reported to DEP within two hours of discovery. The DEP web site(www.mass.gov/dep/
Mr. Saunders said that the cleanup crew has removed approximately 250 cubic yards of sandy soil that holds the bulk of the oil. When they reached groundwater they discovered some oil on the surface and were able to recover another 10 gallons using wells.
"At the present time there is still residual fuel oil in the soil but we think we got the majority of it," Mr. Saunders said Tuesday. "The next phase is to do some more testing and put in some monitoring wells."
Those wells will help him to determine if there is any dissolved fuel oil in the water, important information he needs to prevent fuel from reaching the pond. For now, Mr. Saunders is confident. "I think we are pretty certain that we contained it. Removing so much of the source is the important thing."
As bad as it is, the release could have been worse and far more costly, said Mr. Saunders. The soil was sandy and easily reached and removed. If a tank that is located adjacent to a house leaks, the oil can seep under the foundation and the house. Then the cleanup involves digging under the structure while it is supported.
Mr. Saunders said that a minimum home property cleanup begins at $10,000 but based on experience he added, "I would say $50,000 even $100,000 isn't unusual. It is very easy to get it into the soil and very hard to get it out."
Insurance covers the cost one half to two thirds of the time, he said.
In the tank
Mr. Saunders said that Island homeowners should not ignore their oil tank. The tanks used in seasonal homes are particularly at risk because there is no one looking after them.
Mal Jones stands with the oil tank that leaked and a second older tank he also removed.
Replacing an old tank that is near the end of its life expectancy with a new high-quality tank is a very good investment and much less costly than a cleanup.
He said a tank in a nice dry basement would generally have a longer life than one exposed to the elements. He said a homeowner should think about replacing any outdoor tank that is more than ten years old. "Every friend I know, when I see a tank, I give them that lecture," said Mr. Saunders.
Ralph Packer, owner of Packer Fuel, said that the life expectancy of a fuel oil tank has a great deal to do with where it is located, inside a heated space or outside exposed to the elements. He said that regardless of the conditions 20 years is probably the reasonable limit.
Most older model fuel tanks are of single wall steel construction. Newer models are double walled - fiberglass within a steel shell - and cost $2,200 installed, said Mr. Packer, who added that there is one truism of the business when it comes to tank leaks. "It only happens when you don't expect it."